Friday, September 16, 2005

Opposition to toll plans reportedly reaches a boiling point


Elizabeth Allen
San Express-News
Copyright 2005

Alamo Regional Mobility Authority Chairman Bill Thornton said he plans to hire security for future RMA meetings after an anti-toll activist confronted Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff outside the courthouse Thursday and, according to Wolff, told him to "take the first shot."

Thornton said, "You know how you throw your chest out and get right in someone's face? And he challenged Nelson to a fight."

The incident is an example of how high passions are running over plans to add toll lanes to U.S. 281 and other roads in Bexar County.

The authority and the Texas Department of Transportation, after some sharp exchanges, have both softened their rhetoric recently in a disagreement over how much local control would guide a toll project.

But two Bexar County commissioners and a number of highway-commuting residents are still fiercely fighting the concept.

Wolff and Thornton were headed to lunch when they ran into two of those opponents: Terri Hall, organizer of the San Antonio Texas Toll Party, a group that advocates against tolled highway projects, and Brad Holt, a supporter of the group. Both are residents of Spring Branch.

Hall and Wolff began talking about the 281 project and the conversation quickly turned sour.

"The guy just got angrier and angrier and said something like, 'You are a sorry public servant,' and I was walking away," Wolff said. "He got right in my face and said, 'OK, buddy, you take the first shot.'"

At that point, Wolff said he summoned a deputy and asked that Holt be escorted away.

"Since he was twice my size and half my age, he would have beat the crap out of me," the 64-year-old Wolff said.

Hall and Holt had been attending the re-election announcement of County Commissioner Paul Elizondo, who got testy when they asked if he would support an independent review of the proposed toll roads, many of which are in Precinct 2.

"I need more information on that," Elizondo said.

When Holt continued questioning him, Elizondo cut in.

"Are you from Precinct 2? Are you from San Antonio? OK. Thank you," he said, and walked off.

Hall acknowledged Holt can be rather acerbic in his approach. She stopped short of saying he is hurting the anti-toll cause, but she did intimate that his participation is turning off some people.

"I'm not sure I want to be associated too closely with him," she said with a slight chuckle.

Holt acknowledged being passionate about the toll road controversy — he noted the 281 toll project would leave slow access lanes as the only option for commuters who don't want to pay tolls.

But he denied threatening the county judge.

"That's the first time that anybody's ever been able to call Nelson Wolff a little twerp to his face, and he's saying I'm threatening him. I never raised my hand to the guy or anything else."

Holt has developed a reputation for truculent speech. At a recent Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting he told a state highway engineer, "If that's a smug look on your face, you'd better take it off."

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